The Big Island is home to hundreds of unique species of plant and animal. Unfortunately, even in this paradise, some of these precious animals are under the threat of extinction. These are those who are most at risk:
Nene Goose – nēnē (vulnerable)
The state bird of Hawaiʻi is none other than the docile, medium-sized nene, which faintly resembles the Canada goose. It is estimated that nene goose numbers exceeded 25,000 before western contact, which declined rapidly with the introduction of hunters and predators. By 1952, their numbers dropped to a staggeringly low 30, which resulted in conservation efforts around the world; several geese were transferred to WWT Slimbridge, a nature preserve in England with great success. Conservation and breeding efforts allowed nene goose populations to rebound and surpass 2,500, allowing them to be reintroduced to its homelands.
Hawaiian Hawk – ʻio (near threatened)
The Hawaiian Hawk is a ray of hope – this species was originally added to the Endangered Species List in 1967 with less than 100 surviving birds. Over 40 years later, its numbers have surpassed 3,000 and is now designated as “near threatened”. The ʻio is one of few native predators of the state, and feed on on rodents, small birds, and insects. They form lookout nests high up on ʻōhiʻa tree and dive at high speeds to catch unsuspecting prey. These powerful raptors were revered by ancient Hawaiians, and were originally found in the wild on all islands. Today, they are only found patrolling the skies of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.
Green Sea Turtle – Honu (endangered)
The seemingly friendly green sea turtle can be found drifting around most beaches on the Big Island, and perched at several easily accessible black sand locations – most notably, Richardson’s Beach Park, and Punalu'u Beach. However, the County of Hawaii expressly prohibits touching or bothering these gentle sea creatures. These turtles are the largest hard shelled sea turtles, and can weigh up to 330 lbs. While these herbivorous reptiles can live to 80 years, pollution, hunting, and habitat loss have pushed their numbers down significantly. Ancient Hawaiians viewed the Honu as a sign of luck and long life, and can be seen in several petroglyph carvings.
Hawaiian monk seal – ʻĪlio-holo-i-ka-uaua (endangered)
The Hawaiian monk seal is one of three of the monk seal species, along with the Mediterranean monk seal, and the Caribbean monk seal which was driven to extinction. The Hawaiian monk seal is one of two native Hawaiian mammals, the other being the Hawaiian Hoary Bat. With a population estimated somewhere around 1,100, the Hawaiian monk seal has been a victim of starvation and predation. The species Hawaiian name can be translated to “dog that runs in rough waters”, though its western designation was given for its whiskered monk-like appearance.
Mauna Kea silversword – ʻāhinahina (critically endangered)
The Mauna Kea silversword might not be the most exciting nor beloved species on this list, but it certainly is the most threatened. This silversword was once highly prosperous around the Mauna Kea area, though today it is is considered critically endangered by conservationists. While originally without predators, the domestic animals introduced to the islands in the late 1700’s nearly drove this woody herb to extinction. This silversword is one of only a few species that can survive the particularly severe upland biome of Mauna Kea, and is currently the primary concern of several conservation groups and efforts.